Land of the Kroffts Kings of Saturday morning TV back in limelight
The producers who brought a large-headed dragon, talking hats and Freddie the Flute to Saturday morning television are returning to the limelight, thanks to one of their most memorable programs.
Sid and Marty Krofft’s “Land of the Lost,” directed by Brad Silberling (“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”) and starring Will Ferrell, hit theaters June 5, and the original creators could not be happier.
“This is a miracle,” 72-year old Marty Krofft says. “We went from hero to zero back to hero, and we’re at the top again.”
The brothers, known for such surreal, kid-friendly 1970s programming as “H.R. Pufnstuf,” “Liddsville” and “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters,” have been pushing since 1995 to get a bigbudget “Land of the Lost” movie made.
It took the right production team familiar with the Kroffts’ signature style — campy, colorful fantasy realms populated by puppets and actors in outlandish costumes — to make it happen.
“Everyone who worked on this movie grew up with our shows, so there was a great respect for the characters,” 79year old Sid Krofft says.
For those not familiar with the live-action television series during its 1974-76 run, Marty says, “We were getting 8s and 9s in the ratings, and that meant we could have been probably in the top 15 in prime time,” despite airing on Saturday mornings.
“Land of the Lost” featured a father, son and daughter team of explorers caught in a dimensional warp and stuck in a prehistoric world filled with a species of lizard men called Sleestak, a hairy primitive boy named Cha-Ka (Chaka in the film script) and a grumpy Tyrannosaurus rex.
The series’ origins were tied to Sid Krofft’s fascination with the 1940 movie “One Million B.C.,” starring Victor Mature. He says it “scared the hell out of me.”
The duo also bet that “Land’s” creatures and a Swiss Family Robinson-themed story would help retain the aging audience that had stuck with them through five successful television series.
“We knew that every adult and every child on this planet was crazy about dinosaurs,” Sid Krofft says. “We also struck gold with characters that kids could totally relate to and go on adventures with.”
The new film plays up the laughs through parody and re- places the family with a team of researchers, but it still features plenty of dinosaurs — a computer-generated variety that Marty Krofft calls “the best I’ve ever seen.”
The prehistoric beasts are light-years ahead of their predecessors, having been created by a team of more than 150 designers using a full complement of 3-D modeling technology and led by Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer.
Marty Krofft recalls that in the old days, their version of a difficult special effect involved shooting a guy walking down the street.
“We did not have any money,” he says. “Even though we had [award-winning visual effects and creature modelers] Gene Warren and Wah Chang, the dinosaurs were a real challenge.”
A mixture of stop-motion animation and even puppetry was used as the dinosaurs were shot on 35 mm film. Unfortunately, the live-action show was shot on video. The frames-per-second difference played havoc with equipment when the filmmakers tried to marry the two.
“We had to have Disney engineers always coming in and taking a projector apart,” Marty Krofft says. “One night we showed up at 3 a.m., and they had like a thousand pieces on the floor, and I looked at Sid and said, ‘We’re finished; this is never going to work.’ “
The new film also features a nod to the past with some decidedly low-tech effects. Fans will recognize the cave opening and Cha-Ka, and the Sleestak and Enik are close to the originals.
As far as how the duo would like to be remembered, Marty Krofft quips, “Who cares?”
More seriously, he says: “God gave us some creative talent, we had the opportunity to get it on, and whatever we did, we always took care of the fans. We would like them to take care of us on June 5.”
A world all their own: (Top Left) “Land of the Lost” producers Sid and Marty Krofft on the set. (Top Right) Sleestak lizard men on the prowl. (Bottom) A scene from the 1970s Saturday morning television show “Land of the Lost.”